Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ruiz Leads Phillies to Wild Win; Phils Take 2-1 Lead

They say that timing is everything. No one knows that better right now than Carlos Ruiz.

Ruiz was the hero of tonight's epic Phillies victory, with a long home run and a very short single. After a sub-par regular season in which he hit just .219 with 4 home runs, Carlos Ruiz has been a man possessed in the World Series. Even before tonight's game, he had been one of the few Phillies having consistently good at-bats, having gone 2 for 2 with two doubles and two walks in Game 2. And yet, it seemed as if the Rays hadn't noticed.

Now I think they've noticed. Ruiz got everyone's attention in the second inning when he hit a solo home run, giving the Phillies a 2-1 lead. And he came up big in the end as well, delivering a game-winning RBI single...on a ball that couldn't have traveled more than 45 feet.

Of course, the Phillies never would have been in position to win it were it not for a very strong outing from Jamie Moyer, making his World Series debut at the tender age of 45. There were question marks surrounding Moyer due to his incoming 0-2 record in the 2008 postseason, including an abysmal performance in the NLCS in which he lasted just 1 1/3 innings.

But if anyone could shake off such a poor outing, it's the elder statesman of the team. Moyer limited the Rays to one run through the first six innings and entered the seventh with a 4-1 lead, thanks in part to solo home runs from Ruiz, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard (whose home run was his first since September 26th).

Carl Crawford led off the seventh for the Rays and decided to make Moyer earn his keep, attempting to bunt for a base hit down the first base line. Moyer took off, scooped the ball up in his glove, and dove as he flipped it straight from the glove to Howard. Howard caught it barehanded, just in time to beat Crawford. It was the greatest fielding play of the 2008 postseason, but there was just one problem. First base umpire Tom Hallion ruled Crawford safe. Replays would show that Moyer's throw did indeed beat Crawford, though not by much, but nonetheless Crawford remained on first when the dust settled.

He wouldn't stay there for long, however. The next batter, Dioner Navarro, ripped a double to left field, advancing Crawford to third. Moyer then got Gabe Gross to ground out, but allowed a run to score in the process. Charlie Manuel had seen enough and brought in Chad Durbin, who allowed another RBI groundout, then walked Willy Aybar. Scott Eyre then entered the game and struck out Akinori Iwanura to end the inning. Instead of a comfortable three-run lead, Hallion's blown call allowed the Rays to climb with one.

The precarious lead would not hold as B.J. Upton used his raw speed and baserunning instincts to terrorize the Phillies in the eighth. Upton led off the inning with an infield single, then stole second. He then stole third and made his way home on a wild throw by Ruiz, tying the game.

It would have been a heartbreaking loss for the Phillies and one that has been all too typical of this franchise and this city. At this point it became a showdown between the two bullpens, and the Rays blinked first.

In the ninth, defensive replacement Eric Bruntlett, who had a pinch hit home run in Game 2, was hit by J.P. Howell's pitch to lead off the inning. Grant Balfour replaced Howell and threw a wild pitch. Bruntlett advanced to second, then took third as well as Navarro's throw to second was off-target. With the winning run 90 feet away and no outs, Joe Maddon opted for the unorthodox. Maddon called for intentional walks of Shane Victorino and pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs, setting up a force out at home. He then called Ben Zobrist in from right field to form a five-man infield.

One has to admire Maddon's creativity, but in this case it didn't pay off. Ruiz stepped to the plate looking to be the hero. This would have terrified Phillies fans as recently as a week ago, but ever since his home run, fans realized this was not the same Carlos Ruiz who entered the All-Star break with a .202 batting average.

All he needed to do was make solid contact, and he managed that, chopping a grounder down the third base line. Evan Longoria charged and went for the force at home; the Rays' only chance. He attempted to loft the ball over Bruntlett's head, into the glove of Navarro, but instead the throw sailed well over Navarro's head and Bruntlett scored, sending the Philadelphia crowd into pandemonium.

The Phillies were supposed to crumble after Moyer was robbed of that crucial out in the seventh inning. When Upton tied the game with his baserunning prowess, the Rays were supposed to steal the momentum and steal the series. But Carlos Ruiz stood in the way, delivering perhaps the biggest little hit in franchise history.

Two more wins to go.

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